FAR on Institutional Quality Assurance Process (IQAP) - Results from the Military and Strategic Programme (April 2014)

The RMC Military and Strategic Studies Programme recently underwent an IQAP review. What follows is an overview of the Programme Review process, the findings of the External Review Committee (ERC), and the response to the specific recommendations. The ERC Report has been discussed in detail.  In general, we are pleased with the report and concur with its recommendations. 

Overview of Programme Review Process:

In the spring and summer of 2011 the Chair (Dr James McKay) and Previous Chair (Maj Bernard Brister) of the Military and Strategic Studies Program undertook an IQAP Program Self-Study with research assistance from Ms. Abbie Desloges.    The Final Report was completed and submitted to the Dean of Arts in September 2011.  The Report covers the state of the program between AY 2005-6 and AY 2010-11 and is the first program review since 2004.  As part of the Self-Study process, faculty, students, and graduates of the program were surveyed and consulted in regards to the strengths and weaknesses of the program.   Overall the Self-Study revealed that students were satisfied with the existing program and believed that the courses offered in each of the disciplines which compose the program were relevant to their military careers and provided them with the necessary skills to be successful in their future academic and professional careers.   Although both faculty and students expressed overall satisfaction with the program, some did express concerns regarding the lack of electives and a certain inflexibility in programming the core elements of the degree.  Others were concerned with the program’s lack of human and fiscal resources and suggestions were made to rectify these issues. 

As part of the IQAP process an External Review Committee was invited to review the program and the Self-Study. The ERC consisted of Dr Frank Harvey, Professor of International Relations, Dalhousie University; Dr Geoffrey Hays, Professor of History, University of Waterloo; and Dr. Kiara Goni Boulama, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Royal Military College of Canada.   During the site visit, which took place on December 5 & 6, 2011, the ERC met with various senior administrators including the Dean of Arts, the Vice-Principal Academic, the Chair and Former Chairs of the MSS Program, as well as the Heads of the History and Political Science Departments.  In addition, the ERC met with other faculty and students currently enrolled in the program.   The ERC Report was submitted to the Chair of the Program on January 17, 2012 and concluded that the MSS Program is “a model of a strong interdisciplinary program … grounded in … outstanding departments” and provided students with a clear and well-structured … collection of relevant courses.”  Their report was circulated to the heads of the constituent programs for review.  Though the ERC Report was overwhelmingly positive, the reviewers did present a number of recommendations to strengthen the program.  These are dealt with below. 

Significant Strengths of the Program:

The Self-Study and the ERC identified a number of strengths of the RMC MSS Program. Overall, the two studies found that the Program was a strong and uniquely multidisciplinary program, delivering a rigorous high quality curriculum that provided students with the critical thinking and analytic skills necessary to succeed in their careers as Canadian Armed Forces officers and beyond.   The ERC was confident that the teaching and research carried on by the faculty reflected the current state of research and scholarship in the discipline and that the inclusion of courses in language, science and military psychology represented significant innovation relative to other multidisciplinary programs offered across Canada.  In addition, extra-curricular opportunities such as battlefield tours, debates, conferences and guest speakers also afforded students impressive opportunities to connect their classroom learning with more experiential forms of pedagogy.  Finally, the Self-Study and the ERC were clear that much of the success of the Program was due to the work of past and present Chairs whose dedication to providing students with a high quality education but also with opportunities and mentoring often went above and beyond the call of duty. 

Opportunities for Enhancement:

As part of the Self-Study and External Review process a number of recommendations for strengthening the Program were put forward. In general, the recommendations fall into four (4) main areas including: range of course choices within the program; the lack of explicit methodological and theoretical instruction; governance; and resources.   These are documented in greater detail below.

Range of Choice:
Both students, faculty and the ERC noted that the number of mandatory courses within the degree program may be too high. The mandatory nature of certain courses including HIE/F 270 (Introduction to Military History); HIE/F 380 (History of Peacekeeping & Peacemaking) were deemed to be too restrictive in their current formats.   The reviewers and others suggested making HIE/F 270 a single term course (HIE/F271 which is currently offered to those students not enrolled in MSS or History), rather than its current full year status  while making HIE 380 one of a number of required third year courses that students could choose from to complete this degree requirement.   Other suggestions were made to divide yearlong courses such as HIE 470 into 2 one term courses, which would ease scheduling issues and open up a wider array of other courses available to students.
Lack of Methodology Course:
Both the Self-Study and the ERC Report identified that, as currently constructed, the MSS Program does not adequately familiarize students with the concepts of research methodology pertinent to the field or with a wide range of theoretical perspectives on international relations.   The ERC Report felt that methodological instruction was most critical for Honours students and the lack of such instruction may not be sufficient preparation for them to succeed in the discipline at expected levels of competency and proficiency.  The ERC suggested that a stand-alone course on methodology be created, while suggesting that the courses dealing with International Relations such as POE/F 216 (International Relations Theory), POE/F317 (Introduction to Strategic Studies), POE/F460 (Security Studies) and POE/F462 (Current Strategic Issues) be more explicit and systematic in their coverage of theories of international relations other than the Realist perspective.
Governance:
The ERC, as well as previous Self-Studies of the MSS program, recommended a more formalized governance structure for the Program. They suggested the formation of a Steering Committee composed of the MSS Chair, the Dean of Arts, the Heads of History, Politics and Military Leadership and Psychology, as well as the Chair of the War Studies Program.  In addition, they suggested that the Chair of the MSS Program also participate in the hiring committees for the core departments of the program, particularly History and Political Studies.  Finally, the ERC suggested further administrative support for the Chair either in the form of a Student Planning Committee and/or an Associate Chair.
Resources:
The ERC made a number of recommendations concerning the resources, both human and fiscal, devoted to the MSS Program. The first of these was an increase in the course relief for the Chair of the program from one course to two (one each term).   In addition, the ERC suggested the appointment of administrative assistant or the appointment of an Associate Chair (with one course relief) to lift some of the heavy administrative burdens from the Chair.   On financial matters, the Self-Survey and the ERC Report both noted that the absence of planned and stable funding for the Program, especially its extra-curricular events, was problematic and would potentially affect one of the more popular and innovative elements of the MSS experience.
Miscellaneous:
In addition to the above recommendations, the ERC and Self-Study Reports noted a few other issues required more attention. The first of those was the regular inclusion of the MSS Chair in the annual briefings to the students coming from RMC St Jean to better inform them of their degree options before they arrive at RMC.  Second, the ERC noted that while the traditional range of assignments required in MSS courses was appropriate and effective for assessing student achievement, a greater emphasis on opportunities for experiential learning would benefit the curriculum.  Finally, the ERC and the Self Study recommended that better data, particularly in the form of exit surveys, would be needed to monitor and assess student achievement and satisfaction with the program.

Prioritized List of Recommendations:

Since the reception of the ERC Report a number of recommendations have been, or are in the process of being, implemented. These are noted below with comment.

Range of Choice

ERC Recommendations Chair’s Comment and Implementation Strategy

Potential for range of HIS offerings to be mandatory in 3rd year as opposed to just HIE/F 380

The issue emanates from student perception that there are too many mandatory courses in the program in comparison to their peers in the History, Politics, or Psychology programmes. 

Current approaches to this concern include allowing students to take POE/F324 (International Organizations) and POE/F 410 (International peacekeeping). Given that the end result is similar in that students learn about military operations other than war, both routes ought to be open to students.

Responsibility: Chair MSS
Implementation: September 2013
Resources: Neutral
Monitors: Chair MSS, Heads Political Science and History

Number of mandatory courses high and may limit creativity.

The student perception that there are too many mandatory courses in the program in comparison to their peers in the History, Politics or Psychology programmes does not seem to be as strong currently as when the report was first written.    Changes to the Common Curriculum at the first year level have opened up two general electives to students. 

Nonetheless, the Chair continues to seek ways to broaden the multidisciplinary nature of the programme while being mindful of the dilution of the discipline. Therefore in addition to the strong cores of History and Political Science with their unifying themes of questions of war, peace, diplomacy, statecraft, strategy and conflict, the Chair has issued a call for syllabi from colleagues in non-MSS departments to suggest courses they teach that would fit with the mandate of the programme so that they may be considered for inclusion. Though students would still have the same number of “required courses” the range of choice available to them will increase to meet these concerns.

Responsibility: Chair MSS
Implementation: May 2014
Resources: Neutral
Monitor: Chair MSS

Replace HIE/F 270 with HIE/F 271

When this recommendation was made the Chair and the Head of the History Department were reluctant to collapse, 2,000 years of western military history into a half-year course. Those feelings remain true today.  However, reductions in the Core Curriculum at the first year level have taken some pressures off students by opening up 2 more electives.  In addition, GOE/F 202 is now an MSS elective.

Responsibility: Chair MSS, Head Department of History
Implementation: September 2012
Resources: Neutral
Monitor: Chair MSS, Head Department of History

Divide HIE/F 470 into two one term courses

This recommendation was made with the goal of providing greater flexibility in scheduling for students. However, given cuts to the History Department staff during the WFA process dividing the course in two would cause more difficult scheduling issues from a faculty perspective.

Responsibility: Chair MSS, Head Department of History
Implementation: Not recommended for Implementation
Resources: Department of History
Monitor: Chair MSS, Head, Department of History

Methods

ERC Recommendations Chair’s Comment and Implementation Strategy

Difficult to get a sense of whether a multiplicity of international relations theories is taught within.

This recommendation has been carried through. Theories of international relations are now addressed in greater depth and consistency in POE/F 216. In addition, course syllabi for courses such as; POE/F317, POE/F460 POE/F462, indicate that greater attention is being paid to theories of international relations and research methodologies.  Currently the Politics Department is undergoing its own IQAP review, the results of which will undoubtedly affect its own approach to these issues. 

Responsibility: Chair MSS, Head, Department of Political Science
Implementation: September 2012
Resources: Neutral
Monitor: Chair MSS, Head, Department of Political Science

Methods course to cover quantitative (modelling, game theoretical, etc.) and quantitative methods desirable.

Systematic assessment of methods teaching required.

The deficiency of a stand-alone methods course in both politics and MSS remains outstanding but as the comments above reveal such concerns are being addressed within MSS mandatory courses.

216 – IR Theory
317 – Strategic Studies (with a Quantitative component)
460 – Security Studies
(with a Quantitative component)
462 – Current Strategic Issues

Responsibility: Chair MSS, Head, Department of Political Science
Implementation: Not recommended for implementation
Resources: Head, Political Science Department, Dean of Arts
Monitor: Chair MSS, Head, Department of Political Science

Methodological instruction may not be sufficient preparation for Honours students. May need to select a discipline.

This has been addressed with compulsory methods classes in both terms for students enrolled in the Honour’s Programme - MSE/F 424-426. These classes enable students to better explain the assumptions and limitations of their project in light of a range of methodological options.

Responsibility: Chair MSS
Implementation: September 2013
Resource: Chair MSS (Human)
Monitor: Chair MSS

Governance

ERC Recommendations Chair’s Comment and Implementation Strategy

Student committee useful for program. Student engagement in planning

A student committee composed of three (3) students has been stood up. Members of the Committee have provided the Chair with greater insight into the students’ perceptions of the program and the problems they may be facing. It has also eased some of the pressures on the Chair in organizing extra-curricular activities from trips, to guest speakers, to social events, while simultaneously giving students a sense of ownership over their education. 

Responsibility: Chair MSS
Implementation: September 2012
Resources: Neutral
Monitor: Chair MSS

Chair’s participation in HIS and PES hiring committees

Given that the College has just emerged from under the WFA process no new hires have taken place in either the History or Politics departments.  Nonetheless, it is the chair’s opinion that once the hiring process restarts, the Chair will seek representation on hiring committees where and when a department is hiring for a position that will be responsible for delivering key elements of the MSS program.  Weekly meetings of Dept Heads (Chair of MSS is a member) with the Dean make such hiring common knowledge and all program representation is included.

Responsibility: Chair MSS, Heads, Department of Political Science, Department of History, Dean of Arts
Implementation: No official timeline. As required.
Resources: Neutral
Monitor: Chair MSS

Reconvene a steering committee (Dean, Heads of core programs, Chair WS, Chair MSS and Associate Chair MSS)

Much of what an official steering committee would do currently takes place on an informal basis with the inclusion of the MSS Chair in the weekly department heads meetings chaired by the Dean.  Both the Heads of the History Department and the Political Science Department have been willing to consult and exchange information as required.  

Responsibility: Chair MSS
Implementation: Not recommended for implementation
Resources: Neutral
Monitor: Chair MSS

Resources

ERC Recommendations Chair’s Comment and Implementation Strategy

Two course relief for program chair

Responsibility: Chair MSS, Head of Department from which Chair, Dean of Arts
Implementation: September 2012
Resources: Dean of Arts ( to backfill 2 course relief)
Monitor: Chair MSS, Dean of Arts

Appointment of an associate chair and one course relief

This recommendation has not been implemented in large part due to declining resource levels at the College. Currently the two-course relief has helped lift some of the burdens from the Chair. The addition of an Associate Chair would not only be a great benefit to the current administration of the program, but would provide a more solid succession plan. 

Responsibility: Chair MSS, Dean of Arts
Implementation: Not recommended for implementation
Resources: Dean of Arts (for backfill of course relief)
Monitor: Chair MSS, Dean of Arts

Absence of funding limits ability of program to support activities

Funding uncertainties continue to affect this aspect of the programme, as they do every other programme and department at the College.  In particular the tightening of travel authorities has restricted the scope of possibilities for extracurricular events.  Those that have continued to operate have increased the administrative burdens of the Chair and other professors who teach courses and organize events within the program.  

Responsibility: Chair MSS, Dean of Arts,
Implementation: N/A
Resources: Dean of Arts, Principal/Commandant RMC, RMC Foundation
Monitor: Chair MSS, Dean of Arts

Miscellaneous

ERC Recommendations Chair’s Comment and Implementation Strategy

Briefing to CMR St Jean Cadets

Responsibility: Chair MSS
Implementation: September 2012
Resources: Principal/Commandant RMC
Monitor: Chair MSS

Traditional range of assignments can make courses repetitive and dull.

Consultation with faculty and their course syllabi confirms that student’s concerns about the lack of imagination in delivering courses and course assessments are being heard and addressed.

Responsibility: Chair MSS, Faculty RMC
Implementation: Ongoing
Resources: Neutral
Monitor: Chair MSS

Regular exit survey

This recommendation has not been followed through in large part because the work of the Quality Assurance unit was interrupted by the WFA process. Now that the College has reappointed a manager to the QA unit, it appears that these reports may be available in the future.  Nonetheless, the College still has not developed a system to adequately track students once they have graduated.

Responsibility: Quality Assurance Unit, Vice Principal Academic RMC
Implementation: Unknown
Resources: Principal RMC, Vice Principal RMC
Monitor: Chair MSS, Vice Principal RMC

Better data capture across a program

The data exists but is not easily collated from three departments and manipulated to serve the needs of the program.

Responsibility: Office of the Registrar, Quality Assurance Unit, Vice Principal Academic, RMC
Implementation: Unknown
Resources: Office of the Registrar, Quality Assurance Unit, Vice Principal Academic, RMC
Monitor: Chair MSS

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